Do you want to increase the hydration of your dough, without having to work with a sticky dough? Or maybe you want a crumb that’s more open in your final bread? If so, the Bassinage technique could be the perfect solution! Read on to learn what bassinage is, and how you can use this step to improve some of your recipes!
Bassinage is a french term for pouring or bathing in water. In bread, the bassinage method makes the initial dough stiffer by holding back some of the water. After the gluten has developed, the second water is added to the dough. This method increases the amount of water that the dough can retain and produces a more open crumb.
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Eau de bassinage
Eau de bassinage is actually an old French technique for making bread. It means “water that is bathed, moistened or added”. What it means for bread bakers is that some of the water from the recipe is held back until near the end of kneading or during bulk fermentation.
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What ratio should I use in doing the bassinage technique?
There’s not really a rule for how much water you should hold back for this technique. If you remove too much, you can end up with a really dry dough which results in the gluten becoming damaged. Too little, and there won’t be a benefit for the final bread. Separating 5-8% of the total amount of water is typical.
For example: If you have a total of 800g of water in your recipe, for 5%, the bassinage or second water will be 40g. Whilst 760g of water will be added initially.
What benefits can I get in using bassinage in bread?
Kneading a dryer dough strengthens the bonds between the gluten strands. This makes the dough more elastic. Yet, by adding extra water later on, some of the water gets between the bonds, whilst the rest is absorbed by the flour. This forges an interesting combination of a strong dough that has some pockets of water!
Because the initial dough is strong, it contains the free water in its gluten network. Therefore using the bassinage method means more water can be used in the dough, and a wider and more open cell structure is formed.
Downsides of bassinage
There is a reason why this method is fairly unheard of, but I don’t believe it should put you off. Kneading a wet dough is less intensive, and takes less time. When kneading dough with less water, the dough will be harder to knead and take a few minutes longer.
When the bassinage is added it takes quite a few minutes of kneading to absorb the water. This takes time and effort, and is generally a pain! In the industrial world, it costs money, at home it’s annoying! That said, I still love to use a bassinage, and if you have a dough mixer there’s no reason not to do it!
What kind of bread can I use the bassinage method?
Bassinage is often observed in bread that require an open, soft crumb. I used this step in my authentic baguette recipe and my Italian ciabatta recipe. I believe it’s what makes them so good! This method even helps sourdough bread have an open crumb.
Some bakers include part of the salt from the recipe in their reserved water. There’s some science to support this, and some against so try for yourself or just ignore that I mentioned this and add all the salt at the start of mixing!
How to use the bassinage for breads with a short first rise
If your dough’s bulk fermentation is under 4 hours, the bassinage should be added near the end of mixing
1- First remove 5% of the water and store it in a separate bowl or jug.
2- Here I’m kneading the dough for 5 on slow speed, before a further 4 on fast.
3- Reduce the speed to slow and slowly pour the retained water.
4- Keep mixing on slow until the water is starting to be absorbed. This can take a few minutes!
5- Once the water isn’t going to splash out the bowl, increase the speed of the mixer and knead for another 2 minutes or until the water is near enough fully absorbed. The gluten will stretch without tearing but still feel a little wet.
To do this without a mixer:
After removing the water, knead as you would normally until the dough is well-developed. Return the dough back to the bowl and add the extra water. Start folding the dough into the water, but you can punch or bash it around as you like! Once the dough absorbs most of the water, take it onto the table and knead to fully incorporate it.
Use my how to knead dough guide to learn more about kneading techniques.
How to use bassinage for sourdough and breads with long first rises
For sourdough breads, as mixing is minimal, instead of adding the water at the end of mixing, the water is introduced in the middle of bulk fermentation. Sometimes the water is gradually added in stages and sometimes bathed in one go where it will be gradually soaked up.
To get the full benefit of this method, the gluten should be almost fully developed by the time the water is added. In the case of sourdough bread, much of the gluten development takes place during bulk fermentation. So when using bassinage with this method, we should wait until the gluten has had enough time to strengthen. This is roughly the midway point of the first rise.
1- Remove 5% of the water and store it in a separate bowl or jug. Here I added my starter to the first water.
2- Knead the dough as you normally would, a gentle 3-5 minutes is perfect here, then place it to rest in a covered container.
3- After 2 hours of bulk fermentation, either add the water gradually during each stretch and fold, or add all in one attempt.
4- Keep stretching and folding every 30-60 minutes.
5-The water will gradually be absorbed and by the time it’s ready to shape, fully taken in.
What do you think of bassinage? Have you used it before? Let me know in the comments below: